BELLEVILLE — Abraham Lincoln Elementary School Principal Ed Langen often interacts with students, whether it's playing a game with them on the playground, giving them fist bumps in the hallway, sitting at one of their desks in a classroom or eating lunch with them in the cafeteria.
"It's an opportunity to talk to them over lunch," Langen said. "There's something about breaking bread with someone."
Langen's unique approach is appreciated by members of the Abraham Lincoln PTA, which nominated him for the Illinois PTA Outstanding Principal of the Year Award. Langen, 49, was selected as the winner out of all the entries in the state.
"I don't feel like a person who deserves such accolades," he said, "but I'm honored to accept it on behalf of the people I work with every day. I feel honestly blessed to be in this position."
Abe Lincoln students described Langen as: awesome, nice, funny, different, encouraging and caring.
"He's a really nice principal," second-grader Danae Tyus said.
Fourth-grader Quinn Van Horn, 9, said Langen is a role model for students. "He helps people to do the right thing," Quinn said.
Fourth-grader Jada Callahan, 10, said Langen "makes learning fun for us. He comes in our classes a lot and helps us with problems," she said.
"He makes everything fun," said fourth-grader Ruby Krajicek, 9. "He helps us with most things. He does a good job."
Langen knows every student's name at Abe Lincoln -- all 470 of them.
How do you learn so many names? "Practice," Langen admitted as he showed class lists with pictures of every student, which he studies regularly.
"That's one of the biggest challenges," he said. "I want to be able to call them out by their name."
Director of Illinois PTA Southern region Carolyn McCarty of Belleville said Southern Illinois is honored to have a principal chosen from the metro-east to receive this award.
"Personally, I couldn't think of a better principal to receive this award than Ed Langen," said McCarty, who's youngest child attended Abraham Lincoln during Langen's tenure as principal. "His partnership with the PTA is unmatched by any principal that I am aware. I couldn't be prouder that he was selected."
Langen was surprised to learn of his award during Abraham Lincoln PTA's founders night and family movie night March 14.
"It was completely unexpected," Langen said. "I'm extremely honored by it."
Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the district is proud of Langen and his work at Abraham Lincoln.
"It's a well deserved recognition for Ed," Klosterman said. "In his time as principal of Abraham Lincoln, he's worked really hard to continue to grow the PTA."
Klosterman described Langen as an "extremely passionate individual" and "a high-energy guy."
The nomination submitted by the Abraham Lincoln PTA praised Langen's relationship with students and his commitment.
"Mr. Langen has an incredible relationship with the students of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. There are nearly 500 students, and he has a way of making each one feel noticed and appreciated," it said in the nomination. "Mr. Langen cares deeply about our school. It's not simply a job for him, his dedication and compassion shine through each day as he walks through the halls."
McCarty said the winning principal in Illinois was selected by members of the Indiana State PTA.
Langen will be presented his award during the award luncheon at the Illinois State PTA Convention April 11 in Lisle near Chicago.
PARENT, TEACHER REACTION
Abraham Lincoln parent Beth Van Horn said the entire school was "absolutely thrilled" to learn Langen was selected for the state honor.
"He (Langen) really is the heart and soul of our school," Van Horn said. "He cares about each and every student and family."
Van Horn has a fourth-grader and fifth-grader at Abraham Lincoln. Her fifth-grader started kindergarten Langen's first year as principal of the school.
"It's been great to see him progress -- to see how he has grown as a principal," Van Horn said. "It's just gotten better every year."
Fourth-grade teacher Staci Casto said Langen creates "such a positive climate in this school. He's one of the most caring people I know," she said. "His enthusiasm for his job and his school is unmatched."
Casto said Langen is involved in almost everything at the school. Teachers often joke that there's really two Ed Langens, according to Casto.
"He literally is everywhere," she said. "He's so involved. He's like the Energizer bunny."
Casto, who has taught at Abe Lincoln 13 years, appreciates the support Langen provides. "He lets me be a leader in my room and supports me to be that leader," she said.
Fourth-grade teacher Sue Loose said Langen helps teachers become "better leaders" and lets them know their work is appreciated. Langen will write a teacher a thank-you note and put it in his or her mailbox, according to Loose.
"I try to build positive relationships with everybody through personal conversations, notes and spending time talking to teachers," Langen said. "I enjoy listening. I learn from listening to the teachers. To be successful in any position, you have to be a good listener."
Casto and Loose said Langen is someone students can relate to, because he isn't afraid to have fun. For instance, he dresses up as a different character for the school's book fair every year as well as for Halloween. In the past, he's been Captain Planet, Papa Smurf, Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus and of course, Abraham Lincoln.
Loose said Langen deserves the statewide award. "He works so hard. He gives it his all," she said. "He has such a big heart. He's so open and honest with everyone."
Langen, who grew up in Morrisonville, Ill., began his teaching career 25 years ago at District 118.
He got into teaching at the suggestion of a college professor at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield. "I've loved it ever since," Langen said.
After Lincoln Land, he transferred to Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he earned a bachelor's degree in social studies. His student teaching was at Central Junior High School in 1988 under social studies teacher Jay Braun of Millstadt, who retired in 2001.
"It was a wonderful experience," Langen said. "He was a great influence on me."
Braun, 69, said Langen was the best student teacher he ever had.
"Ed right away struck me with his positive attitude," Braun said. "He was a very energetic young man."
Braun and Langen have stayed in touch over the years, and Braun's daughter is Casto, who currently teaches at Abraham Lincoln.
"Ed has a communication ability of listening to people and observing people," Braun said. "He can relate to people that are older than him and younger than him, which makes him a great leader. They couldn't pick a better person (for the award). He's what's right with education."
Langen was hired as a social studies teacher at West Junior High in 1989.
He earned a master's degree in instructional technology from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2000 and began teaching computer education shortly after. He taught at both West Junior High and Central Junior High.
"I've been fortunate to be in three different (school) buildings and learn from three different groups of teachers, administrators and parents," Langen said.
He received administration certification from SIUE in 2007. "I loved being in the classroom," Langen said. "I was curious about the role of the principal."
Before becoming principal, Langen was dean of students at Central Junior High School for one year. He has been principal of Abraham Lincoln the last six years.
Langen is committed to his job at Abraham Lincoln. He arrives at the school by 7 a.m. and doesn't leave until 6 or 7 p.m. depending on night activities during the school week.
Langen said he believes "if you work hard good things happen. I've always tried to work as hard as I can," he said.
What's next for Langen? "Right now, I'm right where I feel I should be," he said. "The work and the mission of Abraham Lincoln is what I'm meant to be a part of right now. I'm challenged here, and I'm happy here."
About Ed Langen
Family: Wife Cyndi and children Jack and Maddie, both 15-year-old sophomores at Belleville West
Career highlights: Social studies teacher at West Junior High, computer education teacher at Central Junior High, dean of students at Central and principal at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School
Outlook: "The work and the mission of Abraham Lincoln is what I'm meant to be a part of right now. I'm challenged here, and I'm happy here."
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.